Monday, September 22, 2008

Review: Mass Dreams by Berta Freistadt

Berta Freistadt
Mass Dreams

Published by Discovered Authors Diamonds

Reviewed by Layla McCay

In a world without men, that everyone is a lesbian is taken for granted in Mass Dreams. Such a speculative future is rife with possibilities for a writer who is acclaimed for her queer-themed stories and poetry. This only makes it more disappointing that the potential scope of this intriguing concept is so superficially and frustratingly explored in her latest book.

The book’s structure is based upon the tradition of storytelling, focussing upon one woman, the designated “Storyteller,” who recounts her tales to a rapt audience in their community bar, Eye The Girls. This community is known as “Paradise” and is set up as a kind of utopia for those lucky few who have escaped an ill-defined global disaster from which occasional refugees occasionally turn up, though do not stay. The details that might explain the nature of this utopia are never fully available; instead, the reader is charged with the task of piecing together The Storyteller’s world from suggestion, detail, parable and metaphor found within her stories. Real characters merge with The Storyteller’s cast, and storytelling plots with events in the community, imbued with meaning in a way that almost suggests how a bible or tribal history might be created. This is an interesting technique in a very original book. Disappointingly, it feels pretentious, is self-conscious in its execution, and leaves the reader in a confused realm between short story, novel and speculative scripture. Occasional chapters do describe events in Paradise conventionally rather than through stories, and such interludes form the most compelling part of the book. These episodes at times are intriguing, inspired and contain some beautiful character sketches. The reader must be careful not to grow attached to these characters though, for they are rarely followed up, and this is what makes reading the book so frustrating. While one can imagine The Storyteller or her successors creating a future story pertaining to these episodes, the reader in the present is never given quite enough information to care about those involved. Instead we must to endure story upon allegorical story without being given access to the tantalising, and immeasurably more interesting, life of The Storyteller and her companions in Paradise.

This book has a confused identity but is best placed within the genres of fantasy and speculative fiction. The author consistently favours lyrical, imaginative prose over any concrete substance, and playfully challenges the reader to think, speculate, and make interpretations in order to be admitted into the Storyteller’s world. The point is that by failing to define the nature of this community in any firm terms, it feels different for every reader, and grows into each individual’s own personal Paradise (or dystopia). For those who cannot tolerate speculative fantasy fiction, the abstract, tangential style of Mass Dreams may tempt the reader to fling the book aside in frustration, mid-story. For those who are more enthusiastic about this genre, the book provides an intriguing insight into an original way of creating a setting and developing a story that requires the reader’s active participation and commitment to relax into the tangents and create their own meaning.

Layla McCay is a doctor who lives in Camberwell, London with her partner.



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